Today, about half of all Palestinians live outside their traditional homeland, which is located in Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Perhaps 250,000 of them have settled in the United States. Though relatively small in number, they have made extraordinary contributions to Greater Indianapolis, especially in medicine, education, public service, and entrepreneurship. Among their number is Fady Qaddoura, the first Arab American Muslim elected to the Indiana Senate.
Palestinians have made their homes in Indianapolis for more than a century. John Haramy, for example, was born around 1894 in Jerusalem, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and arrived in the United States in 1913. He attended Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana; served in the U.S. Army during World War I; became a naturalized U.S. citizen; and briefly returned to Palestine to teach school before settling in Indianapolis in the early 1920s.
For about two decades, he was a professor at Indiana Central College, today known as the University of Indianapolis. He began his career at the college as a French professor and debate coach, but eventually became head of the history and social science department.
In addition to completing his law degree at Indianapolis’ Benjamin Harrison Law School, which would merge with IU Law School in 1936, Haramy worked on his master’s and doctorate in history while serving as a professor. His 1937 Indiana University Ph.D. dissertation was entitled “The Palestine Mandate: A Study in Conflicting Interests.”
Like many professors working at teaching colleges, John Haramy did not publish his research in journals or books. Instead, he shared his ideas and knowledge in the classroom and in countless public lectures across the state of Indiana. He was a “gifted orator” who spoke at high schools, churches, and men’s groups, among other places. His topics included dictatorship and democracy, international relations, and U.S. patriotism. In 1936, he was chosen to give the principal address at the official opening of the Syrian American Brotherhood clubhouse.
The speaking bug ran in the family. When his sister, Katrina Haramy, came to Indianapolis in 1939 for a visit to her brother, she gave dozens of public speeches, addressing church services, Christian women’s groups, sororities, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. She spoke of her harrowing travels through Europe as World War II began and of her experience as a teacher at the Ramallah Friends School.
In 1947 and 1948, after leaving his teaching post to become a lawyer and a part-time Quaker minister, her brother John became one of Indiana’s most articulate advocates for what today is called the “one state” solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He toured the state speaking against the partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab territories. Arguing that there was no inherent conflict among Palestinian Jews, Christians, and Muslims, he said that all could live in harmony. He blamed European settlers called Zionists for the conflict, and he argued that their political, religious, and economic rationales for a separate Jewish state in Palestine were ill-founded. In 1948, he proposed that the best solution was local rule under the authority of the United Nations.
John Haramy may have been one of the first prominent Palestinian professionals in Indianapolis, but he was not the last. One of the consequences of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war was that Israel, Jordan, and Egypt ended up dividing the land of Palestine among themselves. Palestinians became stateless. Many were forced to move elsewhere.
As refugees or displaced people, their path to Indianapolis could be indirect, as illustrated by the family history of Dr. Majdi Abu-Salih, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Community Health Network. His parents were originally from the Palestinian villages of Ateel and Zeita, near the town of Tulkarm in northern Palestine. From 1948 to 1967, people there lived under the authority of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There was little opportunity to get ahead, but Dr. Abu-Salih’s father was a math whiz. He attended college at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon and then came to the United States for graduate school, studying at the University of Illinois and teaching for a time at Wabash College in Indiana.
Majdi Abu-Salih was born in Urbana, Illinois, shortly after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which Israel occupied his parents’ villages. One of his uncles was killed, and they were not able to return home. His father took a job in Saudi Arabia and then the family moved to Jordan, where Majdi Abu-Salih first studied medicine. In 1990, he returned to the country of his birth, the United States, to finish residency at the University of Iowa and a fellowship at the University of Michigan before coming to practice medicine first in Wisconsin and then in Indiana.
Dr. Abu-Salih is not the only Palestinian Hoosier whose life trajectory was affected by the 1967 war. Mina Khoury, the former owner and operator of a Carmel Dairy Queen and other businesses, was compelled to leave his home as a result of the Israeli occupation. “The strict rules and restrictions” of the Israeli military as well as an economic downturn led him to seek refuge in Indiana, where his uncle had attended Purdue University in the 1950s. In 1968, he left his hometown, Beit Sahour, the House of the Shepherds. This is the place where Christians believe angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, just a few miles west. Mina and his brother, Alex Khoury, became entrepreneurs, and found success in the food business in Indiana. Mina also discovered a sense of community at St. George Orthodox Church, where he married his wife, Eloisa, in 1977.
In 1993, the signing of the Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave many Palestinians hope that they might finally establish an independent state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Those hopes did not become a reality, however, and by the first decade of the twenty-first century, the peace process failed.
Indianapolis activist Lamese Hasan was there to witness its end. In 2002, the Israeli military laid siege to Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah and used bulldozers to destroy several Palestinian Authority buildings. “I remember the night that Arafat’s compound was attacked,” she said. “Tanks passed right in front of our house, and I heard bombings and shots fired. There were several times when I feared for my life. I woke to see homes completely destroyed.”
Hasan, who works in the field of international student exchange, was born in the United States, but her family had moved back to Palestine when she was thirteen. Her parents, who came from Jerusalem and Al-Bireh, wanted their kids to have the experience of going to an Arab school, to live close to their Muslim families, and to learn Arabic. Over a period of three years, she also came to understand what life was like under Israeli military occupation. “There were several times when Israeli soldiers would come into our town and issue curfews, arrest innocent Palestinians, and use violence against Palestinians who peacefully protested the occupation,” she stated. “We would often visit my mom’s side of the family in Jerusalem, and the drive from Ramallah to Jerusalem would become increasingly difficult due to road blocks, check points, and closures that Israel would randomly implement. I would sometimes be questioned and denied entry into Jerusalem to visit my family or have to take a two hour roundabout drive to get to my mom’s home. It should have taken just fifteen minutes.”
When she returned to the United States, she became an activist. Her focus was on human rights. She advocated “freedom of movement, educational opportunities, access to healthcare, and freedom from daily humiliation and destruction in the form of home demolitions, settlement expansion, and contamination of land and water resources.” As a college student, Lamese Hasan organized events and workshops at American University in Washington, D.C. She accompanied friends who went to Palestine to witness the impact of the occupation first-hand. She also worked on-the-ground with activists in Palestine to organize peaceful demonstrations. “I fight for these things not only because I am Palestinian but also because I feel that it is the right of any human to live in dignity, peace, and equality,” she declared.
Like Prof. John Haramy, Lamese Hasan also became an advocate of the one-state solution. “I personally believe in a one state solution where all people live under one democracy and are treated equally.” The reason, she explained, is that “unfortunately the two state solution is no longer viable due to increased [Israeli] settlement expansion that would not allow for a viable Palestinian state.”
No matter whether her fellow Hoosiers advocate one state or two states, Lamese Hasan still encourages them to speak up: “It is of the upmost importance for all Americans to join Palestinians in the fight against Israeli occupation not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is U.S. tax dollars that are paying for many of the unjust policies and actions of Israel.”
Thanks to IUPUI student researcher Jay Brodzeller for assistance on John Haramy and Ronnie Kawak for interviewing Mina Khoury.